• Year of the Shark: On April 14, 2009, Lastings Milledge was demoted to Triple-A Syracuse, and Roger Bernadina, an '01 amateur free agent signed by the late Montreal Expos, who'd played 26 games, hitting .211/.294/.250 in 86 plate appearances for the Nats in 2008, was called up to replace Milledge on the Nationals' roster. Then-Nats' Skipper Manny Acta told MLB.com's Bill Ladson, in an article entitled, "Nats call up Bernadina from Triple-A", that the then-24-year-old outfielder was one of two (along w/ recently-traded OF Justin Maxwell), "legit center fielders," the Nationals had, while also noting that the Curacao-born outfielder could play anywhere and, "...be an above average defensive player." Three games later Bernadina's season was over. While making a spectacular sprinting, leaping catch in center field at Nats Park, the outfielder landed awkwardly on his right ankle, and the resultant fracture would cost the outfielder a chance at claiming a more prominent role in the Nats' outfield.
Last Spring, the left-handed hitting Bernadina hit in 14 of 51 Spring Training at bats, posting a .275/.351/.294 slash line with a double, five walks and four stolen bases before he was sent to Triple-A Syracuse to start the season. Bernadina's .377/.426/.541 line, two doubles, two HR's, eight RBI's and seven stolen bases in 14 games and 61 at bats with the Chiefs earned him a call back to the nation's capital by the second week of April. "They sent me down because last year I broke my ankle," Bernadina explained in an interview last season, "but I was motivated anyway because I missed most of the season last year, I was motivated wherever they sent me. I just went back to the minor leagues and showed them that I belonged here." A .282/.345/.436 first-half of 2010, in which he looked like he belonged, was followed by a .219/.278/.343 end to the season, which saw a tired-looking outfielder finish the year with just 15 hits in 25 games and 93 AB's in Sept/Oct for a .161/.243/.215 slash line in the final month-plus.
Bernadina spent some time in the Venezuelan Winter League after the 2010 season, but left the VWL after just seven games. As his agent explained to MLB.com's Bill Ladson in a mid-November article entitled, "Willingham harbors no ill will toward Nats", the outfielder, "felt fatigued and decided to shut it down for the season," opting instead to work with his trainer and prepare for the 2011 campaign. The Nationals are counting on the first-half of 2010 being more representative of what the outfielder's capable of accomplishing at the major league level. When Josh Willingham was dealt to the Oakland A's, the now-26-year-old Bernadina was cited as a reason the Nats were comfortable making the deal. Bernadina, and defensively-challenged Michael Morse are expected to replace Willingham's contributions as part of a platoon, playing alongside Nyjer Morgan in center, and newly-acquired outfielder Jayson Werth in right.
The Washington Post's Thomas Boswell, in an article entitled, "Ownership, GM are finally on same page," said the Nats' GM, Mike Rizzo, believes Bernadina, who's played just 51 of 153 games in left field with a .988 fld%, and +11.8 UZR/150, "...plays almost Barry Bonds defense," in left, where Bonds won 8 Gold Gloves in his career. Thee Bill James projects a 74-game season for Bernadina, with a .273/.341/.418 slash line in 212 at bats, with the 2011 Marcel projections, covering a full-season's worth (431 AB's) and predicting slightly less optimistic .251/.317/.391 line, with 10 HR's, 18 doubles and 43 RBI's. Michael Morse, according to Bill James' projections, has a .278/.337/.461 season coming, with 17 doubles, 11 HR's and 36 RBI's to Marcel's .274/.339/.470 line with 16, 14, 40. The Nationals got a combined .248/.352/.436 line 27 doubles, 24 HR's and 80 RBI's out of left field last season. Willingham contributed 19 doubles, 16 HR's and 56 RBI's to the Nats' 2010 offense. D.C. GM Mike Rizzo's betting he can get that out of the Morse/Bernadina platoon.
In a teleconference with the D.C. press corps after the Willingham trade, D.C. GM Mike Rizzo told reporters, as quoted in NatsInsider.com's Mark Zuckerman's article entitled, "Rizzo, Beane, Willingham speak", that he thinks, "'...with Bernadina out there, we certainly have supreme defense in left field and a really athletic, defensive outfield.'" But he also said that the Nationals weren't, "'finished this winter with doing what we're trying to do in trying to strengthen and bolster the club offensively and defensively.'"
When the Nationals signed veteran outfielder Rick Ankiel, MLB.com's Bill Ladson wrote, in an article entitled, "Nats finalize one-year deal with Ankiel", that the 31-year-old outfielder would, "compete against Roger Bernadina for the job in left field," and also push Nyjer Morgan for time in center. The Nationals announced late Thursday afternoon that they'd also signed 30-year-old outfielder Laynce Nix, who played 97 games (mostly in LF defensively) and hit 11 doubles and 4 HR's while posting a .291/.350/.455 slash line sharing time with Jonny Gomes in left for the NL Central's best Cincinnati Reds last year. While Bernadina and Morse are expected to claim the starting roles in the left field platoon, they're not being handed the jobs. In an interview last May, Nats' Skipper Jim Riggleman told Rob Dibble and Jim Memolo on Sirius/XM MLB Network Radio's "First Pitch" that Bernadina had something to prove:
"...[Bernadina's] somewhat inexperienced, but he's not a kid. Roger's 25, 26-years-old, so it's his time. It's time to find out if he's going to be a regular for us in the big leagues, and we really want that to happen."
Another year on, Bernadina's still got something to prove. Justin Maxwell's time to prove himself in the Nationals' organization ran out this winter, when he was traded to the New York Yankees for a pitcher who projects as a middle reliever at best or organizational depth more than likely. Roger Bernadina's one year older and still unproven, but he's getting another shot this Spring to prove he belongs in a major league outfield on an everyday basis. Can he prove the Montreal Expos' scouts and D.C. GM Mike Rizzo right?